Iconic Architecture

By Mpls.St.Paul Magazine / Inspired by Genevieve Gorder’s My North

TV host and interior designer Genevieve Gorder may be making a splash these days with the ongoing remodel of her Manhattan loft, but the HGTV star grew up in south Minneapolis surrounded by a decidedly more Midwestern aesthetic. From a fantastical northern lodge to a lavish southern bank building, here are a handful of places around Minnesota where an aspiring designer can go to for inspiration.

National Farmer’s Bank, Owatonna

Built in 1908, this austere red brick and terra cotta bank building in downtown Owatonna was designed by Chicago-based “father of skyscrapers” Louis Sullivan, a mentor of Frank Lloyd Wright and other Prairie School architects. The first of Sullivan’s eight “Jewel Boxes” (custom-designed banks), and the only one in Minnesota, National Farmer’s features intricate cartouches and terra cotta inlays, massive, arched stained glass windows by Louis J. Millet, four gigantic cast iron electrolier lights designed by George Elmslie and a mural by Oskar Gross.

Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis

Guthrie-Theater with bike
The Guthrie Theater in downtown Minneapolis.

While the Ralph Rapson-designed space on the Walker Art Center campus where the Guthrie Theater resided from its inception in 1963 until 2006 was certainly no architectural slouch, their new space overlooking the mill ruins on the shores of the Mississippi River is a downright marvel. Designed by legendary French architect Jean Nouvel, who subsequently won a Pritzker Prize for his collected works including the theater, the sleek dark blue Guthrie changed the face of the Minneapolis skyline with its stacked series of round and angular structures and 178-foot walkway cantilevered over the river called the Endless Bridge.

The Plummer Building, Rochester

Rochester’s Mayo Clinic is chock full of amazing buildings, but Ellerbe & Co.’s 1928 masterpiece Plummer Building is easily the most architecturally prolific. Formerly the tallest building in Minnesota, this skyline-defining structure was named after Dr. Henry S. Plummer, who designed and implemented much of the building’s functionality. The 15-story stone-clad building is as opulent as it is prolific, with various bas-relief caricatures around the lower levels, an ornate bell tower featuring a 56-bell carillon, 16-foot tall, 4,000 lbs. bronze doors, a marble mosaic floor in the lobby and a historical suite that includes the preserved offices of Drs. Will and Charles Mayo.

Minnesota State Capitol Building, St. Paul

Modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, thanks to a just-completed $272.7 million renovation and restoration, Cass Gilbert’s Renaissance/Beaux Arts vision is as profound today as it was when it was built in 1905. The inside is a lavish mix of marble, murals and statuary, but the star of the show is Gilbert’s dome, which is one of the largest of its kind in the world, and plays backdrop to the massive gilded quadriga called The Progress of the State. Guided Capitol building tours occur most days.

Naniboujou Lodge, Grand Marais

Naniboujou Lodge dining room in Grand Marais_Spruce Creek Photography 400 x 600
The opulent dining room in Naniboujou Lodge, Grand Marais.

Perched on a cliff overlooking Lake Superior and surrounded on all other sides by Judge C.R. Magney State Park, Naniboujou Lodge in the northeastern tip of the state is one of the most singular buildings in Minnesota. From the outside, the cedar shakes, polygonal towers and gambrel roof of Naniboujou Lodge look more or less like a finely appointed, if not slightly whimsical, arts and crafts building. But the inside is where the building—built in 1928—really earns its design keep, most notably in the great hall/restaurant where French artist Antoine Gouffee married Art Deco and Cree Indian patterns into a dizzying whole room (floor and ceiling) paint pattern.

Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis

Another building on the list that overlooks the Mississippi, the Weisman Art Museum on the Minneapolis campus of the University of Minnesota is one of the signature works of Los Angeles-based architect Frank Gehry. Famous for his use of stainless steel exoskeletons on the facades of his buildings, the Weisman is no different, employing the modernist look of its stainless facade to look like an abstract waterfall and fish on one side, and like sandstone bricks on the other. For maximum Weisman views, take a walk toward it from the other side of the river on the Washington Avenue Bridge.

My North is a weekly video series created in partnership with Mpls.St.Paul Magazine and Explore Minnesota. If you missed Genevieve Gorder’s story, view it here.

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